President Obama on Monday used a digital platform to highlight his State of the Union address, sidestepping a pesky White House press corps in an appeal to younger voters who were critical to his victory in 2008 and whose support he must regain as he seeks re-election this fall.
The first completely digital interview from the White House, hosted by Google+ -- which Obama dubbed the latest "newfangled thing" -- was another foray into social media for a president who recently visited Facebook headquarters and hosted a YouTube town hall.
Obama fielded a question from a college student looking to earn a "fair wage," reassured an Occupy Wall Street protester he's growing the economy and explained to a homeless veteran why the U.S. sends foreign aid to terrorist-harboring countries like Pakistan.
According to some analysts, though, the event was perhaps less about the message than its intended audience.
"It clearly is a play for the younger voting demographic," said Martin Medhurst, an expert on presidential communication at Baylor University. "Just the very fact that they're doing it is sort of like sending a message to show that you're on the cutting edge."
"This is the latest in a long line of political operations that have tried to circumvent the media filter," Medhurst said. "It succeeds in that effect but I don't think it's good for democracy. It's not that different from a candidate's spot advertisement."
Google officials said the White House played no role in selecting the questions during Monday's hourlong, online "hangout."
Obama has spent much of his time in recent weeks touting his commitment to so-called millenials, young voters who enthusiastically supported his candidacy in 2008 but have cooled to his presidency amid widespread unemployment and political feuding in Washington.
After his State of the Union address last week, Obama traveled to economically hard-hit Michigan, where he threatened to strip colleges and universities of their federal aid if they continue to "jack up tuition." The hyperfocus on the youth vote reveals just how far the president has fallen with one of his core constituencies.
A recent survey by Harvard University's Institute of Politics found that Obama's approval rating with voters under 30 has dropped 12 percentage points in two years.
Just 31 percent of those between the ages 18 and 29 approve of Obama's handling of the youth unemployment, according to Paul Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit that educates younger voters on economic and fiscal issues.
"The frustration with youth unemployment was attributed to the president," Conway said, adding that administration officials have conducted hundreds of youth-outreach events in less than a year. "They aren't seeing any kinds of clarity on when things will get better."
Conway said that Obama received two-thirds of the millennial vote in 2008 but called it "doubtful" he would retain that level of support amid stubbornly high unemployment.
While it's unlikely that young voters will flock to the eventual Republican presidential nominee in droves, analysts said, a lack of enthusiasm could keep them at home in November, making the president's re-election bid more challenging.